Part II: ‘Cover-up’ added to pain, Kamehameha School sex abuse victims say
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Dr. Robert Browne was the chief of psychiatry at St. Francis Hospital, a recognized civil rights activist, a war veteran, and a father of three.
But his upstanding public persona hid a monstrous private life.
Over nearly three decades, from 1958 to 1985, he sexually abused boys at Kamehameha Schools, victims say and the school has acknowledged, and he made clear to them that they had to keep quiet about the assaults.
His victims, who have filed suit against Kamehameha Schools and St. Francis Hospital and who are preparing for a courtroom battle next year, say while the veil of secrecy surrounding Browne was powerful, there were several Kamehameha Schools executives and other employees who should have known about what was happening — and could have intervened while Browne was still abusing boys.
Meanwhile, despite acknowledging that the assaults happened — and an admission that Kamehameha Schools officials knew about the scandal at least 25 years ago — Kamehameha and St. Francis continue to vigorously fight the men's claims for damages.
Kamehameha Schools CEO Jack Wong said in a statement that "clearly, more could've been done for these students."
"We know what is expected of us, and I'm ensuring that we have practices and procedures in place to better protect our students."
Did they know — and do nothing?
There were a number of people, victims contend, who must have known that Browne was abusing boys.
Among them: Middle School Principal Diana Lord, who was a personal friend of Browne's and even allowed him to use her home for some therapy sessions after he left St. Francis. One of the victims said he told Lord in 1966 that Browne was assaulting him. She is now deceased.
So is the late Kamehameha Schools physician Dr. George Mills, who was a resident at the Queens Medical Center with Browne. Mills oversaw all referrals of Kamehameha students to Browne for treatment.
Former principal Gladys Brandt may have tried to intervene in 1972 for her grandson, Christopher Conant. He killed himself in 2011, at the age of 53, after struggling with addiction and homelessness for years. His brother, Blake, said Conant told their grandma that he was being abused.
"When she caught wind of this, my only understanding was that she must have gotten on the phone and like he's (Chris) outta there," Blake Conant said.
Another victim, Loy Watanabe, describes in the lawsuit that he was bleeding through his clothes after Browne sexually assaulted him. Watanabe sought treatment at the campus health center and reported it all the way up to the director of dormitories — to no avail.
And there was the Kamehameha Schools employee who drove many of the boys from campus to their appointments with Browne at St. Francis.
Emmett Lee Loy, who's now an attorney, says he recalls the employee looking in the rear view mirror at him and asking, "Is Dr. Browne molesting you?"
"And I went, 'Uh.' It kind of caught me off guard and I said, 'Uh, no.'"
The fourth executive who may have known at the time was Anthony "Tony" Ramos, who rose from dorm counselor to high school principal during the years Browne was abusing patients.
Victim Gerald Carrell, speaking to Hawaii News Now via Skype from Seattle, says other boys in his dorm loudly teased him about the therapy sessions, saying he was enjoying sex with Browne. Carrell said Ramos should have heard as dorm counselor.
"Everybody in the dorm knew," Carrell said. "He had to know. All of the dorm advisers had to know. They were like sitting right there when he was saying this."
Blake Conant takes the accusations against Ramos further, saying Ramos was the "conduit" who made sure his brother attended his therapy sessions.
"He (Tony Ramos) kept those appointments going," Conant said.
Ramos, now retired, was questioned under oath in a deposition last year and denied ever seeing anything suspicious. He also said the therapy sessions were confidential so he never asked about the progress of the students or for treatment plans.
A confrontation, and then a suicide
In 1991, after every victim had graduated, victim Emmett Lee Loy confronted Browne.
He recalls the phone conversation. "'Dr. Browne, remember what you used to do to me?'" Lee Loy asked the psychiatrist. 'He said, 'Oh, what do you mean?' 'Remember how you used to molest me from the time I was 12 years old, telling me it was therapy? Remember that?'"
The phone call happened 14 years after his own abuse ended.
At the time, Lee Loy was studying to become an attorney. In his legal studies, he learned medical confidentiality laws protected patients — not the doctor, as Browne had repeatedly told him in an effort to keep the abuse quiet.
"I said, 'Did you do this with the other students at Kamehameha Schools? Did you do this with my brothers?'" Lee Loy said. "I said, 'Keep an eye on the door, there's going to be some people coming through. I'm going to (expletive) get you Dr. Browne and he hung up on me.'"
Browne, 65 at the time, shot himself hours later. He was found dead on Halloween 1991.
"It was an emotional tidal wave," said Lee Loy's brother, Lambert, who was also abused by Browne. "I just felt terribly wronged by what he had done to individuals and that his selfish act, escaping – and leaving his family to explain everything that happened."
'The man is dead. I don't know what to do'
Browne's suicide and accusations against the psychiatrist from at least two families finally got the attention of high-level executives, including Michael Chun, who at the time was Kamehameha's new president.
In a deposition, Chun recalled hearing about the allegations.
"My concern was the fact that we had two. Even if we had only one that would have raised my concern," he said.
An attorney asked Chun at the deposition: "So you were concerned that there were others that might have been victims?"
Chun's reply: "Yes."
In the videotaped deposition last year, Chun also said that he didn't know Browne so he turned to Ramos, the high school principal, for help. Ramos, in his deposition, said he was shocked and confused by the allegations and the suicide.
"Basically, I said the man is dead. I don't know what to do with this," Ramo said.
After hearing the allegations, Chun also promised the two victims' families an investigation. But that would never come.
Instead, the abuse was kept secret for another quarter century.
"It pretty much speaks to the fact that they are more concerned with their image in the Hawaiian people's eyes and in society's eyes than they are with doing what's right," said Carrell, the Kamehameha Schools graduate who now lives in Seattle. "Because what's right is to take care of us. What is right is to reach out to us."
In fact, according to the depositions, Kamehameha Schools never contacted other students who were sent to Browne. Ramos estimated there were 50 boys and two girls.
Attorney: "Was there any attempt whatsoever to make – to at least identify — the names and addresses of the people who were Dr. Browne's patients over the course of this time?" Chun: "Not to my understanding. No." Attorney: "Why not?" Chun: "Can't say, but did not happen."
Another mystery: Kamehameha's records of referrals to Browne were apparently destroyed.
'They sought to cover this stuff up'
Experts say the victims were further damaged while Kamehameha leaders ignored the accusations – for more than two decades. At least four of Browne's former patients died as adults, most committing suicide.
"They made no effort, in fact they went the direct opposite direction, they sought to cover this stuff up," Emmett Lee Loy said.
His brother, Lambert, added: "I don't think I coped with it for a very long time."
Chun said after hearing about the allegations against Browne, he notified the Bishop Estate attorneys and then turned his attention to current students.
"I was really focusing on making no further harm, OK?" he said, in the deposition.
"I don't want any harm coming to those under our care. And that was the attention that … was given to this whole matter. Now, in terms of those who had been under the care of Dr. Browne and abused by Dr. Browne, you know, I turned to the legal department to give me some, you know, some guidance on this."
But, he said, the legal department never got back to him — and Kamehameha leaders remained silent for another 25 years.
"You could have done something?" an attorney asked him, during the deposition.
His reply: "Doing nothing is doing something, right?"
This is part two of a three-part series on the Kamehameha Schools sex abuse scandal. To read the first part, click here. Tomorrow, learn how a recent state law allowed Kamehameha Schools sex abuse victims pursue legal claims long after the abuse had occurred.
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